I’ll make a stab at doing the “Botany and Spirits” series this week, as it looks like most days this week will afford me enough time for lengthier posts.
Photographed only a few metres away from the squirrel midden featured on BPotD last month, this common juniper plant is only one individual of the most broadly-distributed conifer species in the world (according to conifers.org: Juniperus communis). Native to most of North America north of Mexico as well as much of Eurasia, it also reaches into Algeria, Morocco, Nepal and Pakistan. I would guess there are exceedingly few vascular plant species one could find both within 100km of the Arctic Ocean and on the south side of the Mediterranean Sea.
The blue fruits of juniper are in fact seed cones, so therefore developmentally similar to cones such as the ones found on Cupressus, for example. However, the scales that form the cone are merged and fleshy in juniper, producing what are called juniper berries (technically speaking, not true berries).
The name for juniper in French is genièvre and in Dutch jenever, and through a bit of abbreviation, this leads to gin–the distilled beverage for today’s entry in the series. The predominant flavouring for gin is juniper, though one local distillery uses at least 13 other botanical flavourings. Several different distillation and flavouring methods are used for the production of gin, with variation occurring in number of distillations, when flavourings are added, and types of stills used.
Wikipedia explores the colourful history of gin, including the Gin Craze of the early 18th century in Great Britain. Purportedly, of the 15,000 drinking establishments in London at the time, over half were gin shops. It also makes mention of some poetry regarding the social ills of excess imbibing: “The principal sin, Of Gin, Is, among others, Ruining mothers” (one of the British names for gin is “mother’s ruin”).